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Drake Bell and other former Nickelodeon stars allege toxic environment in new docuseries

Investigation Discovery’s “Quiet on Set,” which debuts on March 17, interviews actors, including Bell, about popular Dan Schneider-run shows.
Drake Bell
Drake Bell, who starred in "Drake and Josh,” comes forward in the "Quiet on the Set" docuseries with accusations against dialogue coach Brian Peck. Rich Fury / WireImage via Getty Images file

Nickelodeon went through a golden period in the late '90s and early '00s, churning out popular shows like “All That” and “iCarly” with the help of its hit-making producer Dan Schneider.

But a new documentary series featuring several former child stars is bringing forth allegations of a toxic work environment on some of Schneider’s former popular Nick shows. 

“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV,” which will air on Investigation Discovery on March 17 and 18, comes two years after Business Insider interviewed several people who worked directly with Schneider. The report described alleged gender discrimination and an overall hostile work environment. That same year, ​​former “iCarly” star Jennette McCurdy made headlines after the release of her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” in which she also touched on the darker side of being a child actor.

The four-part docuseries dives deeper into the allegations first reported by Business Insider in 2022, interviewing a wide array of people, including two female writers about the gender discrimination lawsuit they filed against the network, and actor Drake Bell.  

Schneider parted ways with Nickelodeon in 2018. He does not appear in the docuseries, but responded to several allegations made with written statements aired throughout the show.

In a statement, a Nickelodeon spokesperson said, “Though we cannot corroborate or negate allegations of behaviors from productions decades ago, Nickelodeon as a matter of policy investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace environment free of harassment or other kinds of inappropriate conduct. Our highest priorities are the well-being and best interests not just of our employees, casts and crew, but of all children, and we have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience.”

A spokesperson for Schneider told NBC News in an email that he was the “biggest champion” for child actors on these shows.

Show creator and executive producer Dan Schneider discusses a scene with stars Victoria Justice and Avan Jogia
Show creator and executive producer Dan Schneider during a taping of Nickelodeon's "Victorious" in Hollywood, Calif., in 2009.Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

“Dan has said himself that he was a tough boss to work for and, if he could do things over again, he would act differently,” a spokesperson for Schneider said. “But let’s be clear, when Dan departed Nickelodeon, a full investigation was done and again, all that was found is that he was a challenging, tough and demanding person to work for and with, nothing else.”

In a statement made via Schneider's team, Russell Hicks, former president of content and production at Nickelodeon, called Schneider “one of the most prolific producers of hit television in the kids and family entertainment business.” Hicks left Nickelodeon in 2016. 

“There is a standards and practices group that reads every script and programming executives looking at every episode,” Hicks said in a statement. “Add to that every day on every set, were the parents and caregivers and their friends watching every single frame of footage and listening to every joke. Every single thing that Dan ever did on any of his shows was carefully scrutinized and approved by executives at Nickelodeon.”

Bell alleges Nickelodeon dialogue coach sexually abused him

In the docuseries, Bell, who starred in the show “Drake and Josh,” comes forward with accusations against dialogue coach Brian Peck for the first time. 

According to the docuseries, Peck was a close collaborator of Schneider on “All That” and “The Amanda Show,” the latter of which Bell appeared on regularly. 

Peck was arrested in 2003 for “lewd acts with a child,” according to a news release from the Los Angeles Police Department. The release said that Peck had molested an unidentified minor he had worked with over a period of six months. 

After pleading no contest, Peck was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a 14- or 15-year-old child, and oral copulation with a minor under 16, according to a case summary from the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

A representative for Peck did not respond to a request for comment. 

The minor, who was previously identified as John Doe, is revealed to be Bell in the docuseries. Representatives for Bell did not respond to a request for comment. 

“The abuse was extensive and it got pretty brutal. I don’t know how to elaborate on that on camera really,” Bell says in the docuseries. 

Bell said that he initially believed that speaking out against Peck would end his career. He also said the abuse “led to a lot of self-destruction and a lot of self-loathing.”

In 2021, Bell was sentenced to two years of probation for child endangerment after he was accused of “grooming” a female victim starting when she was 12. He pleaded guilty to felony attempted child endangerment and a misdemeanor charge for disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. 

In the docuseries, Bell says, “I took responsibility for that. I did what was asked of me, but the media grabbed a hold of so much misinformation and it absolutely destroyed me.”

A Nickelodeon spokesperson said: “Now that Drake Bell has disclosed his identity as the plaintiff in the 2004 case, we are dismayed and saddened to learn of the trauma he has endured, and we commend and support the strength required to come forward.”

Dialogue coach reportedly received letters of support from Hollywood stars 

Bell said that Peck had a lot of supporters on his side of the courtroom during his sentencing hearing. 

The former dialogue coach also received letters of support from several actors, according to the docuseries.

Among those in the courtroom were “Boy Meets World” stars Will Friedle and Rider Strong.

Friedle and Strong, who did not respond to a request for comment, recently walked back their support of Peck in an episode of their podcast “Pod Meets World.” 

“We’re sitting in that courtroom on the wrong side of everything,” Friedle said in the Feb. 19 episode.

The docuseries also reports that Peck received support letters from Rich and Beth Correll, who later served as a director and assistant director on the Disney Channel show “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” 

Peck, who is listed as a registered sex offender, later worked on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," where he performed voiceover work that was recorded in a studio with no interaction with cast or crew including minors. Disney fired Peck after hearing of his conviction, and replaced his voice and on-screen credits on the three episodes he had recorded.

A representative for Disney declined to comment.

The Corrells said “they had no input or involvement in the casting” of Peck on the show in a statement aired in the docuseries. Representatives for the Corrells did not respond to a request for comment. 

Neither Schneider nor Nickelodeon executives wrote letters of support for Peck, according to the docuseries. Bell said that Schneider supported him during this time. 

In response to the allegations put forth in the docuseries, Nickelodeon told the docuseries producers that it “investigates all formal complaints as part of our commitment to fostering a safe and professional workplace ... We have adopted numerous safeguards over the years to help ensure we are living up to our own high standards and the expectations of our audience.”

Former child actors allege unsafe working environment 

Leon Frierson, who worked on ”All That,” which Schneider served as head writer and an executive producer on, alleges in the docuseries that the producer played favorites.

“He made it known who was on his good side,” Frierson says in the docuseries.

Frierson told NBC News in an email that he hopes audiences view those who spoke out in the docuseries as "brave souls willing to forgo their career aspirations and industry favor to tell the truth."

"Our industry’s child stars are endangered and our advocacy is an attempt to preserve the physical and mental health of all those involved," he said.

Frierson said that his participation in the docuseries is "is not an indictment on Nickelodeon, it’s an indictment on immoral people that prey on children."

A handful of other former child actors make similar allegations about Schneider in the docuseries. 

“Zoey 101” cast member Alexa Nikolas, who was interviewed for the docuseries, said she felt she was sometimes put in over sexually suggestive scenes. She specifically recalled a scene that featured her character squirting goop onto her co-star Jamie Lynn Spears’ face. At the time, Nikolas alleged that some of her male castmates remarked that it looked like a “cum shot.”

The docuseries also shows a clip of Ariana Grande from “Victorious” in which she squeezes a potato and moans. Fans of the artist have previously called out the clip, among several others, online. 

A spokesperson for Schneider told NBC News “every scene was approved by the network and these shows are all still being aired today. If there was an actual problem, they would be taken down, but they air constantly all over the world, enjoyed by kids and parents.”

Representatives for Nikolas and Grande did not respond to requests for comment.

Former ‘Amanda Show’ writers claim gender discrimination 

Two female writers who worked on “The Amanda Show” in 1999 allege that the production was a hostile environment for women. 

Jenny Kilgen and Christy Stratton were the sole female writers on the sketch comedy show, which starred Amanda Bynes. 

At the time, Stratton said that there “weren’t a lot of positions for women in sketch comedy.” She alleged that Schneider told she and Kilgen that women aren’t funny. 

The writers also alleged that Schneider would regularly ask female crew on “The Amanda Show” to massage him, a claim that was first reported in the Business Insider story. 

They also said he would subject them to sexual jokes. In one instance, Kilgen said Schneider instructed Stratton to simulate being sodomized while telling a story about high school because Schneider believed it “would be funny.” Stratton said she didn’t want to discuss the incident and that she’s “not proud of it.” 

“You always felt like disagreeing with Dan or standing up for yourself could result in you getting fired,” Kilgen said.

Kilgen and Stratton also alleged that Schneider made them split their salary with each other during the first season. Kilgen said she was invited back for the second season on a 16-week contract and asked to work the remaining 11 weeks of the season for free.

Kilgen later sued Storybook Productions, which produced “The Amanda Show,” for gender discrimination. An excerpt of the lawsuit that airs in the documentary shows that Kilgen alleged that executive producer Schneider denied her equal pay. Stratton wrote a letter supporting Kilgen’s account of discrimination on the show. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount, according to the docuseries. 

Schneider denied having control over salaries on the show in a statement aired in the docuseries. 

Stratton said she was fired at the end of the first season. Kilgen supported this claim in the docuseries. 

Kilgen and Stratton did not respond to requests for comment.

CORRECTION (March 13, 2024, 10:45 a.m. ET): Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated Dan Schneider’s involvement with Nickelodeon’s “All That.” He served as an executive producer and head writer; he was not the show’s creator.